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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — NCAA president Mark Emmert believes it's the responsibility of individual schools to handle issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and that a spate of recent cases reflect greater societal problems.
"If a student-athlete engages in bad behavior, they have to be subject to the same standards of conduct as everyone else," Emmert told reporters Tuesday before delivering a lecture at Kansas City's Rockhurst University about the future of college sports.
"The most important thing to the NCAA membership," Emmert said, "has always been that students aren't treated in any privileged or disproportionate fashion."
That doesn't mean that such issues haven't been brought to Emmert's attention.
The NCAA announced a partnership last week with the White House on a new campaign called "It's On Us," which is designed to get young men and women to take responsibility for themselves and their behavior. The NCAA also released a new handbook last month to universities and athletic departments that shares best practices for handling domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Those issues have been in the spotlight recently in the NFL, where a series of high-profile abuse cases involving stars such as Ravens running back Ray Rice and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have led to widespread change in the way the league handles domestic violence cases.
Similar cases have occurred on college campuses, generating far less attention. This week, Tennessee dismissed a freshman running back from its football team after a police report stated he hit an ex-girlfriend in the mouth at a party.
"The real question is, 'Should-athletes be held to a higher standard?' I want them to be held to the same standards that you and I are," Emmert said. "I don't know that we need to hold them to a higher standard. ... They are in many cases highly visible people and they have to know that there are certain responsibilities, and they need to be handled accordingly."
Emmert did acknowledge one difference when star players misstep.
"They just end up quicker on Twitter than someone who isn't a student-athlete," he said.
Emmert didn't directly discuss the case of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was suspended for last week's game against Clemson for yelling a vulgarity on campus. But he did say that the majority of schools handle similar situations in the appropriate manner.
"Most universities understand that's a reflection on the university," he said. "Universities have a lot more at stake in holding students accountable for their behavior. I wouldn't say it's done right all the time, but it is done right most of the time."
Emmert also stood by his pronouncement to Division I faculty athletic representatives that the handling of sanctions relating to the Penn State scandal "has gone very well."
Emmert was criticized for stepping outside the normal channels in handing down significant penalties, including scholarship reductions, a four-year bowl ban, millions in fines and more than 100 vacated wins. He was criticized again when the NCAA announced recently that it was rolling back most of the penalties and restoring the school's scholarships and postseason eligibility.
"I don't think there's any way to handle a situation like that and try to make everyone happy," Emmert said. "There was nothing happy about that circumstance. ... The executive committee's approach, the Division I board of director's approach, is not, 'What can we do to make everyone happy?' It was, 'What's the right course forward?'"
Emmert said Penn State has conducted itself in an appropriate way in the two-plus years since the sanctions were levied, calling the school "a model of intercollegiate athletics."
"It's easy to go back and Monday-morning quarterback something like that," he said, "but I think everyone did as well as they could under those circumstances."
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